Last year Tate issued a guide to “slow looking”, citing studies that found that visitors to art galleries spend an average of eight seconds looking at each work on display. The guide advocated quality over quantity when viewing works of art, encouraging visitors to spend 10 minutes of slow looking at their complex pieces of art. The proposition was that the act of looking slowly at objects affects the way we understand them by looking beyond the obvious and seeing details that would ordinarily escape the casual observer.
The same concept lies behind the classical Lean approach of “Go, Look, See”, which advocates going to the work place, to observe real work in real time, engaging real people with the aim of identifying and solving real problems. This was vividly brought to life in Steven Spear’s paper “Learning to Lead at Toyota” which was published in 2004 in the Harvard Business Review. In it he introduced us to Bob Dallis, a successful Plant Manager, shortly after he joined Toyota Motor Corporation. Rather than settling into his plush new office, Dallis was sent to the shop floor of an engine plant in the US for six weeks under the tutelage of his coach to watch employees work and machines operate, looking for visible problems. In that time, he had the opportunity to observe more than 20,000 complete work cycles and his ability to lead was soon put to the test as he was sent to Japan to conclude his induction. Using his new-found skills, he was challenged to go to a factory, look at the work being done there, see problems, identify improvements and implement 50 of them over a 3-day period. In successfully engaging a team to deliver an improvement every 22 minutes in the workplace, Dallis learnt several lessons that led him to reflect on the changes that his induction had engendered in his leadership style:
- There’s no substitute for direct observation
- Proposed changes should always be structured as experiments
- Workers and managers should experiment as frequently as possible
- Managers should coach not fix
A number of factors in the workplace today, such as the rise of global and remote working and the proliferation of digital technologies, whilst beneficial in many respects, can encourage leaders to choose data over engagement. Many leaders infrequently go to the place where work is actually done and value is added, preferring instead the comfort of meeting rooms and the ritualistic safety of Powerpoint. When they are able to venture into the workplace, diary pressures can mean that an eight second viewing is more preferable to a 10-minute viewing, let alone a longer observation. In doing so, leaders inadvertently propagate differences between how things are and how things should be without ever quite engaging their team’s potential in realising how things could be.
What would it take to truly go, look and see in your business today?
What might happen if we could see things as they truly are, and we made a conscious decision to engage and support our teams in addressing our challenges?
That’s surely worth a slow look.